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TRAVEL WATCH: OCTOBER 11, 1999 VOL. 154 NO. 14

Explore Cambodia's Royal Roots at Angkor

Illustration for TIME by Bill Prochnow

While you don't need Indiana Jones' whip, pistol and fedora to visit Angkor, the swashbuckling cinematic archaeologist's spirit of adventure will come in handy. With more than 1,000 archaeological sites scattered across 200 sq km of lush Cambodian jungle, Angkor is a beacon to global explorers. The ruins are the legacy of the Khmer civilization that rose to prominence when King Jayavarman II pronounced himself Universal Monarch in 802. This began six centuries of Khmer political influence over much of Southeast Asia and a time of lavish royal patronage for culture and art.

Modern visitors usually stay in nearby Siem Reap, a 25-minute flight from Phnom Penh, slightly longer from Bangkok. The choice of accommodation in Siem Reap runs from simple, $10-a-day guesthouses to the elegant Grand Hotel D'Angkor (to book $310 doubles call 855-63-963-888).

Explore Cambodia's Royal Roots at Angkor
With more than 1,000 archaeological sites scattered across 200 sq km of lush Cambodian jungle, Angkor is a beacon to global explorers

Today Phnom Penh is blooming into a popular tourist destination

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Successful temple tripping requires two important elements: comfortable shoes and a plan. The best way to get around Angkor is to hire a car and driver--$20 a day--and follow what the first French visitors called the "grand circuit." This can be done in a day (although the cognoscenti say you need at least three to see the place properly). You'll need to spring from bed early and head to Angkor Wat, the largest temple, for sunrise. Dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, Angkor Wat was built as a funeral temple for one of Jayavarman's descendants. Indeed, the main approach comes from the west, a symbol of death. The exquisite stone bas-reliefs of this and other Angkor temples tell the story of everyday life in ancient Cambodia.

The next stop is the South Gate of Angkor Thom, a great place to take photographs in the early light. Inside this walled city, look for the Bayon, in the very center, with its 49 towers and 172 smiling heads. To the north are many interesting ruins, but one must-see is Ta Som, a forgotten jumble of overturned columns and boulders. Then on to Ta Prohm, with its elegant walls pushed apart by gargantuan tree roots and tattooed with moss-covered reliefs. For a spectacular sunset, climb to the top of the 100-m Phnom Bakheng mound to watch the sandstone towers turn shades of pink and purple. While this is no Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones himself would feel happily at home.

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